May 31: Winner Drive-In Theatre, Winner SD

It’s Day 151 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. After my brief stop near Carhenge in Alliance NE, I drove about four hours to return to South Dakota. My destination was the Winner Drive-In Theatre, just southeast of Winner SD.

As you can see from the YouTube video above, the Winner features a curved screen, a grassy playground area, and rows of outdoor seating.

The Winner reopened last Friday for the 2017 season. It was built in 1950 by Harvey Fast, then widened in 1955. The Fasts added that playground equipment in 1960.

Betty Fast, Harvey’s widow and owner of the Winner, told the Rapid City Journal in 2014 why she bought a digital projector that year. “It is an expensive switch, but it’s something that I’ve enjoyed doing,” she said. “I want to do it and the community needs it.”

“The people that come, they aren’t my customers, they’re all my friends,” she said.

In 2015, KWYR had a great video tribute including interviews with Betty Fast and other drive-in workers. That’s where I learned that Winner has a tradition of handing out Tootsie Rolls at the ticket booth, and that the drive-in uses what is only its third popcorn popper.

Some drive-ins are only open on weekends, others are open seven days a week. Then there are drive-ins such as the Winner, which is open Fridays through Mondays. All of which left me out of luck on a Wednesday night, but it gave me time to look ahead and plan the next couple of weeks. It’ll take a few more miles, but I’ll keep the dark nights to a minimum this summer. I hope.

Miles Today / Total:  227 / 19520 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 68

Nearby Restaurant: The Holiday House is a fine local restaurant that serves a little bit of everything. I had the broasted chicken, but any place that serves steak and shrimp and beer already has a lot going for it.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Although I was amused to read the Super 8 here advertise itself as “within walking distance” (1.5 miles) from the drive-in, I went upscale and chose the Holiday Inn Express instead. A clean, comfortable room in the evening and a hot breakfast in the morning. I’ve been limiting myself to just one cinnamon roll each time I stay at a HIE. This demonstrates willpower.

Only in Winner: According to Wikipedia, Winner is the county seat for an adjacent county as well as its own, Tripp County. Okay, technically, it’s just the administrative center of Todd County, but you get the idea. And Winner was named for the fact the town had emerged the “winner” as Tripp County’s most successful trading point.

Next stop: Hilltop Drive-Inn Theatre, Gregory SD.

May 29: Roy’s Black Hills Twin Drive-In, Hermosa SD

Drive-in screen at twilight

photo from the Roy’s Black Hills Twin Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 149 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. This time it was “only” a half-day’s drive, four hours from Mobridge SD to Roy’s Black Hills Twin Drive-In in Hermosa.

Roy’s Black Hills Twin is one of the wave of 21st-century drive-ins. Opened in 2012 by Roy Reitenbaugh, it claims to be the first drive-in built with digital projection.

Reitenbaugh talked with The Daily Republic of Mitchell SD in 2013 about the challenges of getting the new drive-in built. After getting the idea, “it took seven years to find an investor and a location at the same time,” he said.

The construction of Roy’s had to wait until issues were solved to meet county and town ordinances, including build permit and floodplain concerns. Even obtaining sign permits has been a challenge. “I didn’t know it was going to be that hard,” Reitenbaugh said.

The concession stand at Roy’s has a bit more than just the usual drive-in suspects. Pulled pork sandwiches, side salads, and especially walking tacos can’t be found just anywhere.

What a great way to spend Memorial Day, relaxing in my car and watching an excellent drive-in movie on its opening weekend. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales probably isn’t an excellent movie (without the drive-in part), but all that action and CGI are just what we need on the big screen.

Miles Today / Total:  247 / 19150 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales / 68

Nearby Restaurant: There’s the kind of pizza that gets served in a buffet and there’s the kind that’s hand-crafted with personality. So lunch at Lintz Bros. Pizza was different than the previous day’s pizza and chicken extravaganza. I had some Lean Greek pizza, which is supposed to be sort of healthy, and the “pig wings,” which made no such claim. And some Boulevard Wheat Beer to wash it down.

Where I Virtually Stayed: To stay somewhere close to Roy’s the choices are the cluster of hotels near Mount Rushmore 12 miles away, the cluster of hotels in Rapid City 17 miles away, or the White Tail Ridge Bed & Breakfast two miles away, just west of Hermosa. I missed out on driving twisty two-lane highways late at night, and I got to eat rhubarb waffles with blueberry sauce for breakfast. Score!

Only in Hermosa: As mentioned in Roadside America, here in the shadow of Mount Rushmore, you could find 15-foot tall busts of three other American presidents. Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and John F. Kennedy may have been advertising the nearby, now defunct, Presidents Park. Check out this Google Street View of the busts with the drive-in screens in the background.

Next stop: Sandhills Drive In, Alliance NE.

May 28: Pheasant Drive-In, Mobridge SD

Drive-in screen at sunset

photo from the Pheasant Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 148 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I spent most of my day in North Dakota, a state with no active drive-ins, as I drove for six hours between Warren on the northwest edge of Minnesota to the Pheasant Drive-In in the northern South Dakotan town on Mobridge.

The story goes that, in the 1950s, the original Pheasant Drive-In was built close to the Missouri River. So close that when the Oahe Dam formed Lake Oahe, the drive-in was rebuilt at its current location in 1960. But construction on the dam started in 1948, so why would anyone build a new drive-in where they knew it was going to washed away? Anyway, it’s still very close to the Missouri River; you can see it from the lot.

Ron Maier bought the place in 1976. In the middle of the 2012 season, a storm knocked down the screen, and the Pheasant was closed for six weeks until it was repaired.

According to a September 2015 article in Cooperative Connections (pdf), Maier said business happened to pick up after he converted to digital projection. “This past year has been excellent, just phenomenal,’’ he said. “We’re seeing a lot of repeat customers, a lot of people bringing their grandchildren. It’s maybe some nostalgia. They kind of remember the good old days.’’

At the end of last season, the Pheasant had a smart, interesting promotion. Patrons could bring any size container up to a gallon (!) and get it filled with almost any fountain soda for $1 “while supplies last.” What a great way to expend your syrup before it goes out of date over the winter break!

I was lucky that the Pheasant had just opened for the season this weekend. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 became my most-watched movie so far this year with my fifth viewing on this night.

Miles Today / Total:  387 / 18903 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 / 67

Nearby Restaurant: What could be better than a pizza buffet? Maybe a pizza buffet with fried chicken. That’s what they’re known for at Pizza Ranch. Sure, the buffet also has salad and veggies and other healthy stuff like that, but after another long day of driving, I just wanted easy, tasty food. This worked.

Where I Virtually Stayed: I went across the bridge to the Grand River Casino & Resort for the night. My room wasn’t as fancy as some casino resorts, but it had a fridge, a microwave, and a coffee maker. The rate was also better than a lot of resorts.

Only in Mobridge: According to Roadside America, residents of Mobridge claim that the bones of Native American leader Sitting Bull were stolen from his original grave in Fort Yates ND on April 8, 1953. They encased the bones in a steel vault embedded in a 20-ton block of concrete, then buried the whole thing on top of a very visible bluff overlooking Mobridge from across the Missouri River, and built billboards to direct tourists to the site.

Next stop: Roy’s Black Hills Twin Drive-In, Hermosa SD.